Senator Elizabeth Dole served in five presidential administrations, including as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Transportation and President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor, which makes her the first woman to serve in two different cabinet positions of two different presidents. She was the president of the American Red Cross, U.S. Senator for North Carolina, and in 2012, founded the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which is dedicated to military caregivers. Dole’s public service spans the latter part of the 20th century, into the 21st century. Her archives will be a key resource across subjects and academic disciplines, including history, government, politics, consumer affairs, and safety.
Early Life and Education
Elizabeth Hanford Dole was born Mary Elizabeth Alexander Hanford on July 29, 1936, in Salisbury, North Carolina to parents Mary and John Hanford. She graduated from Duke University with distinction in 1958, as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Harvard in 1960, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1965. She was one of only 24 women in her law school class of 550.
As a new attorney, Dole moved to Washington, D.C., and began to build an impressive resume. She started work in President Johnson’s administration at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and then for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. She transitioned to the Nixon administration and was promoted to the Deputy Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs. In 1973, President Nixon appointed Dole to the Federal Trade Commission, where she served until 1979, when she left to campaign for her husband, Senator Bob Dole’s 1980 presidential bid.
Dole served as Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison for President Reagan 1981-1983, and then was nominated and confirmed as the United States Secretary of Transportation. She was the first woman to serve in this role, 1983-1987. At the time, the United States Coast Guard was located within the Department of Transportation, making her the first woman to head a branch of the United States military.
Appointed by President George H.W. Bush, she served as United States Secretary of Labor 1989-1990, making her the first woman to serve in two different cabinet positions for two different presidents. From 1991 to 1998, Dole was the president of the American Red Cross. She was the second woman to hold the position and first since founder Clara Barton in 1881.
Elizabeth Dole got her first taste of national politics in the 1960s as a campaign volunteer for Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, on the Democratic ticket as vice-president and later president.
She campaigned on behalf of her husband, Senator Bob Dole, throughout the years. In 1976, on a leave of absence from the Federal Trade Commission, she worked extensively for the Ford-Dole ticket for president and vice president. She campaigned for Dole’s own presidential bids in 1980, 1988, and 1996.
Following her time at the Red Cross, Elizabeth Dole sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, becoming the first viable female candidate from a major political party. She withdrew from the race in late 1999 and endorsed fellow Republican George W. Bush in early 2000.
In 2002, she ran a successful campaign to become United States Senator from North Carolina – the state’s first woman to serve in that role. During her time in the Senate, she was the Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee 2005-2007, also the first woman to serve in the position.
Increased safety was Dole’s top priority at the Department of Transportation. She advocated for and saw the institution of state seat belt laws, increased installation of air bags in cars, and the passage of the nationwide drinking age of 21. These three safety measures, known as the “Trifecta,” have saved nearly 500,000 lives to date with a projected 20,000 per year going forward. Noting that women made up a small percentage of DOT workforce at the start of her tenure, she created a “10-Point Mobility Assignment Program” to develop and recruit women in the department and sought to expand these programs throughout the offices of the Reagan administration. Dole also oversaw the privatization of several government-owned assets: The March 1987 sale of the Consolidated Rail Corporation (CONRAIL) for $1.65 billion was, at the time, the largest Wall Street stock offering; and Washington National and Dulles International Airports were transferred, after much negotiation, to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s ownership and control.
During her time at the Department of Labor, Dole tackled challenges related to the growing complexity of jobs and spearheaded initiatives that would benefit both workers and employers. She put together the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, which developed national work readiness guidelines for high school students, held the first national conference on the school-to-work population, and encouraged the business community to get involved in mentoring. The resolution of the Pittston Coal Strike, which lasted nearly a year, was a key achievement for Dole. Rather than wages, health care and pension benefits were at stake, and she got leaders from the United Mine Workers of America and Pittston Coal Company to meet face-to-face at the bargaining table, which ultimately led to a settlement.
In remarks on her first day at the American Red Cross, Dole declared that she would become a volunteer herself – accept no salary – for her first year as president. Out of respect for ARC volunteers, she wanted to earn for herself the iconic Red Cross arm patch. She led a $287 million project that transformed how the Red Cross collects, tests, and distributes blood. This modernization created one centralized database, replaced 53 testing facilities with eight state-of-the art and standardized labs, and began a Quality Assurance Program that became a model for the blood banking industry. And as part of a multi-year project under her direction, the National Disaster Operations Center was established to be open 24 hours a day, every day of the year to monitor ongoing and potential disaster events.
On December 6, 1975, she married Senator Bob Dole, who represented Kansas in the U.S. Congress for over 35 years, and became stepmother to Robin Dole, from his first marriage. He served as Senate Republican Leader for 11 years, was the 1996 Republican Nominee for president, and President Ford’s vice-presidential running mate in 1976. Senator Bob Dole passed away on December 5, 2021.
In his retirement from political life, Senator Bob Dole worked as special counsel for the Alston & Bird Law Firm in Washington and volunteered with the Honor Flight Network. He served as National Chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign, helping to raise over $197 million in cash and pledges. In 2018, Senator Bob Dole received the Congressional Gold Medal – Congress’ highest honor – for his public service to the nation.
Present Day Life
Senator Elizabeth Dole resides in Washington, D.C., and is active with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which she started in 2012, to empower, support, and honor America’s military caregivers. The mission of the Foundation is to, “strengthen and empower America’s military caregivers and their families by raising public awareness, driving research, championing policy, and leading collaborations that make a significant impact on their lives.”